Coronavirus has disrupted our contented, commonplace, and comfortable lives. Businesses are shut down, dramatically reduced, or operating out of employee’s back bedrooms. Children are attending school at the kitchen table and parents have never been so harried or worked longer hours.
Family togetherness hasn’t been this intense since Ozzie and Harriet and the Cleavers. We’ve gone from debating whether adherents to a certain religion can cover their faces in public to demanding that everyone wear a mask. We’ve gone from a time when businesses couldn’t find anyone to work for them to a time with record unemployment.
We’ve transitioned from record public and consumer confidence to graphs showing practically everything, except COVID, plunging off the page.
We’ve gone from a handshaking, man-hugging, highly social society to eyeing everyone we meet with trepidation, if not fear.
Many have seen the future they envisioned for themselves wiped away and replaced with uncertainty. Many believe they no longer have a future.
All this, in a relative instant.
It is in the face of all of this, that we come to grapple with what does the future look like?
I’d like to contribute to your thinking about the future here, and specifically as it relates to operating and growing your agency. I am going to make some predictions. And predictions can’t be proven until later. As Paul the Apostle said in First Corinthians, “…now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…”. I think some things are obvious about the new normal; some are more speculative. I offer all of them to you to fuel your own thinking and preparation.
- Coronavirus, and specifically the fear of it, is going to be with us for several years. So as you return your business to a more normal footing, you will need to assure employees and clients that you have put their safety first. This may mean taking temperatures, wearing masks in the office, and conducting new business interviews and renewal conversations via Zoom. These kinds of things, some you are already probably doing, are going to become normal.
- Businesses will increasingly pivot to measuring employee performance by what they accomplish rather than taking attendance. The old school way of managing people “by wandering around” to see that they are at their desks and busy, will give way to measuring using Key Performance Indicators and rewarding employees not just for long tenures but results. Yes, many agencies do this now, but many do not. Those that do not in the future, have a questionable future.
- Geography no longer matters. In the past, consumers preferred local relationships in doing business. Covid has made virtual communications face-to-face using Zoom, FaceTime, and other technologies commonplace. I’ve been writing and predicting that this way of communicating would become ordinary, and even preferred, for years. Suddenly, it’s true! And it means that local is a loser. It gives forward-thinking agents the ability to do business anywhere. It allows them to expand the market they work in to be exponentially larger.
- While geography no longer matters, expertise has never mattered more. Many agents have found success over the years in niche or target marketing. I built my own book of business this way over 25 years ago. But where I marketed niches locally and even regionally, successful agents will now market nationally.
- Until the Ides of March 2020, one of the three most challenging tasks for any agency owner was finding talent to staff his or her business. Agencies located in smaller towns or cities had an even more difficult task because their labor market had so few people in it. Covid has turned this upside down. Not only are there going to be more unemployed available to hire locally for years; you can now hire people anywhere because you will be able to manage on performance and communicate using technology like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom.
- Agencies will be able to operate in smaller offices, thus saving money. This is because not only does virtual work and work effectively, but many employees will prefer or even demand it.
- Consumers and business owners will go from slightly annoyed and uncomfortable when agents bring up life insurance, disability insurance, and similar products to deciding agents who don’t offer these things are unprofessional and inadequate.
- Insurance carriers will cancel underperforming agencies much more ruthlessly than in the past. Carriers have been much freer with agency contracts in the last ten years and agents with smaller volumes could represent more companies than historically. This must change because carriers will be forced to cut expenses. They already know who drives their results; they will just be forced in an unprecedented way to face it.
- We will see an explosion of new business models. There has never been a fundamental disruption to human society, of any kind, which did not foster economic creativity. Change to business models will become the new normal. This means economic death for those who are rigid in their thinking and immobile in their actions. It will mean unprecedented opportunity to the ambitious, aggressive, and creative.
- Revenues and margins will compress and taxes will go up. This means cash flow challenges for every business. This is likely for a variety of reasons my coauthors and I discuss in our book, “CovidProof Your Agency”. Businesses, including insurance agencies, who succeed in the new normal will become experts at managing, conserving, and appropriately using cash. This means that they must become better business people than they were to survive and thrive.
As we all climb out of our foxholes in the coming weeks and months, we will see a landscape that is different than the one we left. It will be disorienting and confusing to many. I hope that some of my predictions will be like a map that you can use to orient yourself.
The new normal we face is full of opportunity. Go get your share!